©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
“While this behavior may be funny to observe, the impact it can have on a dog's quality of life can be devastating…”
Yes, dogs can have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that manifests as tail chasing, licking their paws until there is an injury (lick granuloma), fly snapping (biting at imaginary flies), flank and blanket sucking (literally sucking on their rear legs or on inanimate objects), pica (eating non-food items) and the list goes on. Many pure behaviorists object to calling this behavior OCD because we can't know what the dog is actually obsessing or thinking about. They prefer to simply call this behavior a compulsive disorder or CCD (Canine Compulsive Disorder).
Just like with people, these repeated behaviors serve no real purpose and can go on for long periods. The behaviors are in response to anxiety that is relieved with the neurochemical changes these seemingly non-stop behaviors produce. A pattern of anxiety - compulsion - relief - reinforcement is started which makes these behaviors difficult to stop. Certain breeds show a propensity for specific types of compulsive behaviors. Examples include: Doberman Pinschers (flank sucking), German Shepherds (tail chasing), Golden Retrievers (light chasing), English Bull Terriers (freezing), Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (fly snapping).
Diagnosis can be difficult as there are other causes for these behaviors including attention getting behaviors reinforced by owners and physical problems such as gastrointestinal issues and allergies.
Typical treatment is through behavioral modification which may include medication. Many of the same medications used in the treatment of human OCD are used for CCD. Further evidence, in my opinion, that OCD in humans and CCD in dogs are similar in many respects.
While this behavior may be funny to observe, the impact it can have on a dog's quality of life can be devastating in many ways. Needless to say, if you have a dog that you believe is presenting with compulsive behaviors, please find an independently certified canine behavior consultant for help with this challenging problem behavior.